So-Called Small Cells Can Actually Be Quite Big

Editor’s Corner — Firece Wireless

By Linda Hardesty, Apr 10, 2019 | Original Fierce Wireless article here.

I’ve been covering communications networks for a couple decades, but I’ve only recently been focusing specifically on wireless networks since I joined the FierceTelecom group. As part of my self-education, I attended a session at this week’s CCA Mobile Carriers Show in Denver, entitled “Innovative Small Cell Solutions.”

The first thing the panelists discussed was the definition of a “small cell.” You would think an audience of wireless professionals would already know the definition. But apparently they don’t, because the FCC only recently, in September 2018, published a new rule aimed at speeding deployment of small cells and 5G. And within its rule, the FCC defined what it calls “small wireless facilities.”

The FCC’s rule says these small wireless facilities are defined as those that are mounted on structures 50 feet or less in height, including their antennas, with a 10% leeway in certain situations. In addition, each antenna associated with the deployment is no more than three cubic feet in volume; and all other wireless equipment associated with the structure is no more than 28 cubic feet in volume

Melissa Mullarkey, VP of government relations at Mobilitie, said on the CCA panel that the company is working to “educate communities on what small cells are.” Mobilitie is a provider of wireless real estate solutions. Mullarkey added that with a height at 50 feet and an allowance for 28 cubic feet of volume, “that’s a lot of room for adding a lot of equipment to the pole.”

Personally, I’m grateful to the FCC for providing a precise definition of a small cell because for my first couple of months covering wireless, I’ve had to contend with words like “mini cells,” "micro cells" and “mini-macros,” the latter of which seems like a contradiction in terms. Now, at least we know that a small cell is 50 feet tall or less.

At Mobile World Congress earlier this year, I did see some small cells for mmWave that were actually small. These devices could be mounted on something like a light post and were unobtrusive.

Beyond the height and volume definitions provided by the FCC, the panelists at the CCA show said small cells differ from macro calls primarily in power and coverage requirements.

So-called "small" Wireless Telecommunications Facility (sWTF) Controversy

There has been a fair amount of uproar and gnashing of teeth in some jurisdictions that aren’t happy with the FCC’s new rule regarding small cells. One of the concerns of these cities and municipalities relates to aesthetics. They’re concerned new small cells will be unsightly.

One solution to the aesthetics problem might be to co-locate small cells with utility infrastructure. Koustuv Ghoshal, managing director for Ericsson’s energy-utilities practice, said “We’re seeing potential collaboration between telecoms and utilities. The largest amount of vertical assets are held by utilities. There is incredible opportunity for these two rather slow moving vehicles to come together.”

Mullarkey pointed out that electricity is an expensive requirement of wireless equipment such as small cells. Siting this equipment near electric utility infrastructure is less expensive for the wireless carriers. “There is a ton of work that needs to be done with electric utilities to deploy these sites effectively,” she said.

Operators face local opposition to 5G small cell deployments

by Kendra Chamberlain, Mar 15, 2019 | Original Fierce Wireless article here.

The City of Portland, Oregon and many other cities are suing the FCC for its wireless pre-emption order, which went into effect in January 2019 and limits local government authority to regulate how 5G small cell equipment is deployed.

In September 2018, the FCC passed a wireless pre-emption order that it says will help streamline 4G/5G small cell deployments and ensure that wireless carriers have low-cost access to public rights of way and existing support structures such as city-owned utility poles and street lights.

Wireless carriers have argued that a rapid 5G deployment will require rules to help carriers navigate the permitting process which varies across local governments and municipalities. This is a problem that carriers deal with when deploying 4G/5G small cells.

“There were no standards for this, and the cell site approval process had become very onerous,” analyst Mark Lowenstein, managing director at Mobile Ecosystem, told FierceWireless in an email. “There were attempts at both the state level and federal level to both streamline the process and also to develop some standardized guidelines, such as the cost and length of approval process.”

Portland’s Mayor Ted Wheeler has called the FCC order a “land grab against local infrastructure.” And Portland is just one municipality that has asked the FCC to reconsider its presumptive order. As wireless providers begin deploying small cell equipment throughout neighborhoods and city districts, opposition to the order is growing. In late 2018, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, along with City Attorney Pete Holmes, announced the City of Seattle will coordinate with other cities in a lawsuit against the order.

“In coordination with the overwhelming majority of local jurisdictions that oppose this unprecedented federal intrusion by the FCC, we will be appealing this order, challenging the FCC’s authority and its misguided interpretations of federal law,” Durkan said in an October 2018 press release.

Samir Saini, New York City’s chief information officer and commissioner at the state’s Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications, made a similar stand in a September 2018 blog post on Medium, as has Boston, Massachusetts, Mayor Martin Walsh.

Local opposition to small cell deployments isn’t altogether unwarranted. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, local residents, business owners and elected officials were shocked to learn AT&T was reportedly digging holes in the middle of public sidewalks for small cell wireless facilities without coordinating or informing anyone, according to a news story from Baton Rouge-based Business Report. Other city governments have raised concerns that lack of authority over when, where and how small cell equipment is deployed could lead to complications such as damage to historic buildings, unsightly installations in historic or design districts, and decreased property values.

Chris Nicoll, principal analyst of wireless and mobile at ACG Research, said that wireless carriers might be able to regain favor at the local level if they took more care to hide the equipment. One of the chief complaints local governments have against small cell equipment is that the equipment itself can become an eyesore. In Palo Alto, California, for example, the local government was able to force Verizon to keep most of the equipment — except the antenna — out of sight using shrouds; while communities in Piedmont and Santa Cruz require Verizon to place equipment in underground vaults, according to local media reports.

“The industry has not kept up with its early good faith comments that it would look to make telecom infrastructure more socially acceptable,” Nicoll said. “That’s fallen by the wayside, and it’s contributing to this problem. It’s an example of the telecom industry not being as responsive to communities as they could be.”

Nicoll pointed to Sprint’s small cell “magic box,” built by Airspan. “Sprint has put hundreds of thousands of these into small businesses and enterprises and people’s homes,” he said. “That’s one way of adding capacity and coverage to a network, and it doesn’t require any outside equipment whatsoever.” He also noted Sprint’s strand-mount strategy, in which small cell facilities from Airspan can attach directly to telecom wires. “It’s a small unit, it’s self-contained, but it’s a small cell,” he said. “It doesn’t require regulatory review."

Nicoll said these lawsuits may impact 5G rollouts as it did 4G small cell deployments. But he added that 5G will take five years to deploy, and any delays caused by local opposition are unlikely to greatly interfere with deployments.